Thursday, August 13, 2020

Professional disregard

 Throughout my teaching career, I was disappointed that educators did not have greater leadership capacity. Typically when decisions were made for us, those decisions were never as good as decisions made with us. The pandemic has shined an ugly light on professional disregard since in many situations educators have been left out of the discussion and plans for the school year during a pandemic. Many conversations have not only disregarded educators' voices, but the discussions have left out educators' safety too. No matter what kind of commitment you made to schools, students, and systems, what appears to matter most to many decision makers is that you are a body in a room to provide childcare during the pandemic. It is very sad to see the profession face this crisis--the poor leadership of the past has become the destructive leadership of the present. This is a sad reality for educators, students, schools, and communities across the country. 

Ending the teaching career

 I suspect that I'll reflect on this decision throughout the next year at significant school-related times. I still find it difficult to imagine how I could go from 100 to 0 in a matter of days when it came to my investment in classroom teaching. It seems like on a Monday I was 100% all-in for the school year ahead and by Friday, I had decided to end my teaching career. I didn't imagine the end this way--I thought it would be a more gradual change.

Why such a dramatic change in short time?

The Pandemic

There's no denying that the pandemic threat of illness and potential death was the single greatest determinant in this decision. I have too much to look forward to and too much that I want to do to put myself in harm's way at this time. I want to avoid sickness and death as much as possible in the days ahead. 

The pandemic response by decision makers at school also led to my decision. I thought of many ways to teach well during a pandemic, but my voice was hardly considered--I had little to no say in what would happen. That worried me as to return to school with no leadership or say about my work would make my work suffocating and frustrating at best. I could not go back under those circumstances.

34 Years Later

It's also true that I've taught for 34 years. I essentially worked around the clock for most of those 34-years trying to perfect my craft and education programs in ways that helped children become skilled, informed, and inspired lifelong learners. I loved the creativity involved in this work, and I was excited about every moment that a program resulted in student engagement, empowerment, and awesome education. I am happy about my career's efforts and focus. Last year, despite the pandemic, was one of the best teaching years in my career--so much of what I studied and imagined to be an excellent teaching/learning program occurred last year. The year ahead's limitations would prohibit almost everything that I believe connects to awesome teaching and learning--I could not put myself in that position at this time. I would be too frustrated, and I would literally have to work too much to be satisfied with what I could do. I'm sure that if I was a younger teacher, I would have made it work because my family relied on my salary during those years, and I had to work. Now, due to  my age and years of service, I could retire.

Called in a New Direction

I tend to listen to the signs all around me and within me when I make a decision. I do believe that we get signs and nudges from the universe as to where we should travel. I have listened to and heeded those signs throughout my life with no regret. I remember when my husband of 32 years called me from across the country at 5 a.m. one morning long before we were married--I saw that call as a sign. Also early life love of children and enthusiasm about school were the signs that led me to teaching. I tell my children that they were dreams before they were born, and that's true, I dreamed of having children from my earliest days--I always wanted to be a mother. And more specifically, usually all the activities I forwarded in school were inspired from the world around me including the news, nature, science, the teaching community, the children's words and expressions. This decision too has been informed by the world around me including my 90-year-old parents who I desire to spend more time with, my sons who I want to see and support more, my home which I want to update and improve, and the world which I want to contribute to in new and valuable ways.

It's sad to say goodbye to the school community. There's a bit of guilt at jumping ship during this difficult time in school life, but I'm confident that the school I left is in the great hands of talented, creative, and committed educators. Most changes in my life have been more gradual and expected. This is perhaps the first big change that has been more spontaneous and unexpected, but overall, the change is right. I am excited to see what the next steps will bring. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Pandemic school decisions: have no regrets

Everywhere I look, there are discussions about how to do school in the fall of 2020 during a pandemic. My advice is to decide in a way that leaves you with the least amount of regrets.

Personally, since I have underlying health conditions that put me at risk of grave illness or dying, I opted to retire. I also opted to retire because as one colleague noted I could not run a "COVID classroom." I know that good learning does not involve tight rows, little to no contact, and a teacher teaching solely fromt the front of the classroom. 

To me, most of the discussions by decision makers are about warehousing children so their parents can get on with their lives and work. I don't believe that a good education is about warehousing children, but instead a good education is about giving students the experiences, skills, knowledge, and concepts necessary to live good lives and support a free country. 

If I were in charge of the world, my first choice would be safety. Children can make up a year of school, but they can't make up a lost life.

If I were in charge of the world, I would help families to support their children's good living and learning at home with childcare stipends and community supports to make this a reality until we get a vaccine. Work places can help out too by making centers for safe childcare at work to help parents who want to work. 

I would also support schools' ability to foster robust remote learning in sensitive, creative, and positive ways to help families and others continue children's educations in effective ways. Educators are well skilled to do that work, and fortunately the technology exists to allow educators to lead those programs.

Many school systems, communities, and states will not make good decisions. Some will have regrets. With this in mind, families, teachers, and students will have to put their own safety first and do what they can to make as safe as possible a year.

Bottom line, children are natural learners. If a child reads or listens to at least one well-chosen book a week (or one picture book a day), signs onto Khan Academy and does the math exercises at their level, watches good documentaries about social studies topics, explores the natural world outside and via experiments with household items (there are a zillion of these online), socializes with a small pod of friends and family members, and researches and creates creative presentations related to their questions and topics of interest, that child will make substantial gains in learning. 

As I've noted multiple times, the pandemic has laid the inequity and problems of society bare. There are many, many positive ways we can respond to this to make our communities and the nation as a whole stronger. But first, everyone has to look out for their personal safety and the safety of their communities. Everyone should operate so that they have few to no regrets during this relatively short-term problem. You can do this. 

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Frightening changes for schools, educators, and students

The pandemic has laid bare society's inequalities and long neglected organizations and instituations. Sadly, we see this reality in education in multiple ways.

Teachers left out of the narrative

Too many educators have been left out of decision making conversations and choices in significant ways. Instead, many who are not teaching/learning experts, have been leading the narrative for schools in the fall. This is frightening since many of those individuals don't understand learning with a modern lens and real experiences thus too many of the stories I read and hear don't represent what it means to teach well. Instead many narratives are more about warehousing children--this is very sad, but not surprising since the Trump team shows little regard for children in general.

Poor priorities

Instead of focusing on what it means to be healthy and well-educated, most of the priorities focus on how to warehouse children with the fewest number of deaths or grave illnesses. This is a deficit model, not a strengths model for learning. This appears to support the Trump team's will to keep a servant class in the United States--a class that does the service work with few to no supports that helps those people live and rise up in healthy and positive ways.

Private takeover of public education

Privateers are seeing this poor education management as an opportunity to make money. In so many ways, public schools systems are responding to privateers' glitzy, cost-saving messages. These privateers don't represent significant skill or investment in good education, but instead a mediocre-at-best response to systems' needs for remote education, school building/tech quick-fixes, and pass-the-buck-solutions. Too often, public school leaders and decision makers are attracted to the slick marketing, low costs, and empty promises of privateers in education who are out to make a quick buck without any true concern about deep and valuable education. 

Denial of the real issues

As I listen to many decision makers discuss education in the fall, they appear to ignore the science behind this pandemic and they don't take the pandemic risks seriously. They also ignore the social issues that this pandemic lays bare. I wish that decision makers and leaders would look for the promise in the pandemic with the following questions:

  • How can we use this time to uplift families, schools, and community life?
  • How can we build a more scientific savvy society, a society that takes science seriously and reacts responsively?
  • How can we collectively learn from our error during this virus--what did we do wrong and how can we change that now and into the future?
What can we do?

I am worried for our country right now. I am worried because too many leaders are putting their own wealth and privilege ahead of the needs of most people and society in general. Many of these decision makers do not have a strong vision for our country--they can't see beyond their own pleasure and privilege. What can we do? 

First, we have to look for the good leaders and support them in ways that we can. We have to follow their lead with regard to how to stop the spread including wearing masks, washing our hands often, using hand sanitizer, getting tested when needed, and not supporting decisions that elevate the spread and threat. We also have to advocate for decisions that help people--for those who need childcare, I believe we have to provide a stipend to help out. For those who  have been asked to work in dangerous, unhealthy situations, we should provide a safe, financially viable way to avoid those situations. We have to support essential services by providing financial and infrastructure support to make those supports a reality.


Our country is suffering right now from a lack of a common vision. We need to come together with some common principals and direction. Too many have lost sight of what it means to live in a free country and the responsibility that's required. In too many ways, we've become a corporate state putting the rights and profits of corporations ahead of human rights and good living. We need leaders that will bring us together with a vision and direction that is right for all, not just a wealthy few. We can do this. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

The next teacher

I arrived at school to clean out my classroom. I was greeted by a nice sign, a bottle of wine and a beautiful orchid from the school staff. That was so nice! I was also greeted by a room that was super clean and organized for the next person. That was awesome too. As I went through cabinets and drawers to retrieve a few personal items, I thought back 34 years to when I inherited a fourth grade classroom in the same school. I was greeted with piles and piles of supplies. I held onto those supplies for a year or two, then eventually replaced what was there with new supplies that represented my knowledge and craft. 

Thirty-four years ago, I was very excited to be a teacher. I had a zillion ideas about what I would do, and I began working on what would become a never-ending list of ways to improve my craft and teach better. I chronicled my first year for a professor at Boston University who eventually used my notes for one chapter of his book on first year teachers--it's nice to have that chapter to refer to so many years later.

I am happy to leave my wonderful, clean room, terrific supplies, and wonderful fifth grade team for a new teacher. I suspect that the new teacher will be like I was, thrilled to use her creativity, knowledge, and will to take care of and teach young children. I am just as excited for the students as while a new teacher may not be as seasoned, their enthusiasm and commitment make up for that--I'm sure the new person will bring lots of new ideas and great energy to the job.

Once this COVID-19 threat is passed, I'm sure our school will regain it's terrific spirit and wonderful service to children and families. In the meantime, people will do the best that they can amidst all the limitations and rules. 

As for me, it was cathartic to go in there and put the final touches on the clean-up. Now it's officially time to embark on the next chapter, a chapter that will include greater focus on my immediate and extended family, catch-up with regard to what seems like a zillion house chores that I've put off for a long time, and hopefully a few adventures too--for now adventures that fit pandemic limitations and later adventures that are much more free and exciting. 

For those teachers still in the field, please take care of yourselves. Know that you are not super-human, but you are greatly skilled when it comes to education. Keep top-notch education at the forefront of your professional work, and understand the importance of your positions as nation builders. I'll be rooting and advocating for you from the sidelines. I know how important you are to our nation's children and our nation in general. We need you and we need to treat you with utmost respect and support as you do this important work. Onward. 

Final classroom clean-up

If you read my blog, you know that I retired a few weeks ago. 

With the threat of the pandemic, some underlying risks, and worry about the ability to teach well in the year ahead, I decided that it was time to retire from teaching after 34 years. 

Several parents have reached out to ask me if I would be willing to tutor their children or pods of families. I was honored by their requests, but said no since I'll spend the next year caring for my extended family and catching up on some long overdue goals and tasks. 

Today is my final big teaching task which is to clean up the classroom. I did a good job in the spring organizing and cleaning, and today I'll put the finishing touches on the classroom clean-up. 

What will I do?

First, I'll get rid of a lot of paperwork that would have been useful to me, but not to the teacher that takes over.

Then, I'll retrieve a few personal items and bring those home.

After that I'll sort through the book collection--I'll leave the books that are in good shape, take home a few valued personal books, and recycle old books that children have shown no interest in or that are torn and dirty.

I'll leave most of the supplies as they are--the new teacher can re-organize and decide what he or she would like to keep or not. I'll leave the picnic table I donated and a number of comfy chairs too. 

The fall presents difficult decisions and situations for educators, administrators, school committees, families, and students. Everyone continues to navigate new territory--territory that's risky and somewhat frightening too. I know that the families, administrators, educators, and community members at the school that I'm leaving will continue to do a professional, thoughtful, and skilled job by students.

This is a difficult time to leave schools, but for so many reasons, it is the right choice at the right time for me. Onward. 

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Why jump ship?

At a significant cost, I jumped ship from my teaching career after 34 years. That decision has come with all kinds of emotions, yet there hasn't been a day when I regretted the choice. 

What emotions has this created?

Certainly there has been some anger. Anger that a pandemic is raging, in part, due to poor, ignorant, self-serving, irresponsible leadership. Anger that no one would listen to me or take my ideas about safe school in the fall seriously? Anger that my tireless, 24-7 successful remote teaching in the spring was ignored for the most part. Anger that my underlying health risks were ignored. Anger that decision makers showed no concern, respect, or support for teachers' good work, investment, and lives. Anger that throughout my career, it has almost always been a battle to be heard.

There's an element of guilt that emerges too. I know how to teach well. I am very creative. I can take almost any situation with children and turn it into a positive learning event. And so there is some guilt about jumping ship when I know that I have the skills and abilities to be as asset during a time like this, but self-preservation outweighed guilt. Bottom line, I didn't want to put myself at risk of dying from the pandemic or at risk of not being able to teach well due to poor leadership and poor decision making.

I could retire. I am grateful for that. I've worked for a long time. I invested money into the state's teachers' retirement system over time. I earned a lot of credentials throughout my tenure as a teacher and I worked very hard. I enjoyed my career. I felt I did a good job overall, and I'm grateful that I can retire at this time and turn my focus to other matters in life, matters that mean a lot to me. 

I am excited about the chapters ahead, but that excitement is somewhat dampened by this pandemic since there are so many limitations and a lot of fear. No one wants to get ill, and life as we like it is greatly compromised. Yet, with some short term sacrifice, I hope that I can engage in some imagined explorations and adventures in the days ahead.

I'll miss the school team. I enjoyed the creativity involved in collaborating to create great programs for children and to serve children and their families well. We created a good model. We had a successful school. There was a lot of joy and success. I'll miss that. 

Honestly I have little regret. I always did my best, though at times, there was error and mistakes. Those errors and mistakes, in general, were due to not knowing rather than any planned misdeeds or endeavor. As I taught, I learned a lot. That's both the upside and challenge of teaching well--you're always learning and you're never perfect.

I have great respect for educators. They truly are nation builders, and I hope that the country will respect and support that profession and those professionals going forward. 

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Your voice is not welcome here

There are times and places in life where your voice is not welcome.

You may advocate and work to gain voice in those places in many ways, but there will eventually come a day when you decide that it's time to leave because if you stay, you will be relegated to work in an environment that does not represent your vision, voice, skill, or knowledge.

I remember a long time ago when I made a move because where I lived did not respect or represent my voice or values. I had to make a change--it was the right thing to do. 

When it is clear that your voice is not welcome, you must try to exert your voice before you leave. Let people know what you think. But, if after attempt after attempt to share your truth and ideas, and you are still ignored, then it is likely time to leave--time to find a new place.

I don't want to go to my grave with the knowledge that I did not stand up to ineffective, disrespectful, and harmful events. I don't want to be part of the problem, but instead I want to be part of the solution. 

That said, I am aware that none of us have the monopoly on what is truthful and good, and we all have to be open minded and ready to listen to others too. We generally arrive at what is right and good when we work together rather than working on our own.

Sometimes it's easier to turn a blind eye to what is right and good. Sometimes it's easier to just go along to get along rather than stand up for what is right and good. In the long run, however, it is worth the energy and time to do what is right, to stand up for what is right and good, that saves a lot of trouble and struggle later on.